Susan DeMusis Dora Lau Project HUG Gala

Plus-size lingerie, skimpy swimsuits and other unmentionables were the buzzwords of choice at the HUG Gala Wednesday evening in Midtown Manhattan. 

The annual Project Help Us Give Gala — now in its 64th year — was formed by leaders in the lingerie and swimwear industries to raise money for charity. Executives from brands like Wacoal, Lively, PVH Corp., Ross Stores and Miraclesuit all donned their finest attire as they gathered in the penthouse of 230 Fifth Avenue to mingle over fancy cocktails and the sounds of jazz singer Pucci Amanda Jhones.  

“I’m not sure who put together the gift bags, but usually it takes me a full day in the sun to turn the same shade of the lingerie that was in those bags,” Dr. Steven Flanagan, medical director at Rusk Rehabilitation at NYU Langone Health, told the crowd of more than 200 people as they nibbled on New York steak and ravioli. He was referring to the scarlet-colored, lacy thong that was a party favor. 

Project HUG Gala

Guests at the 2019 Project HUG Gala in New York City.  Courtesy

Despite the light-hearted shenanigans, the event had a serious undertone. It helped raise more than $200,000 for the Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone and the Pediatric Division of the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. 

It also honored retail and lingerie veterans Susan DeMusis and Dora Lau.

“I’m so humbled, because there are so many people in the industry that deserve the award,” Lau told WWD. “I’m happy and glad that they picked me. But it was a surprise.” 

Each year, the nonprofit selects individuals or organizations that have made substantial contributions to the intimates or swimwear industries to be honored.

Lau founded Dora L International Inc., an intimate apparel vendor, in 1991, and has served as the company’s chief executive officer and president for the last 18 years. She went on to create plus-size lingerie brand Curvy Couture in 2012, which was recently sold to Ariela & Associates LLC, the 26-year-old privately held intimate apparel manufacturer

“It’s really challenging in retail right now,” said Lau, whose own career has spanned more than three decades. But she added there are many positive changes, like fashion’s willingness to now include all body types. 

“There are a lot of customers that think, ‘Oh, I love this. I wish they made this in my size,'” Lau explained. But, she cautioned, “all of these [designers] want to be inclusive now. But it takes expertise to do it right. Everything makes a difference: the fabric, the pad, the underwire that goes into it. All of that really needs to be thought through.”

DeMusis, the evening’s other honoree, also has an extensive background in lingerie and swimwear. She has been president of luxury swimwear brand Miraclesuit since 2016. But before that she had stints at Soma Intimates, Victoria’s Secret and the Carole Hochman Design Group, where she worked on lingerie brands such as Betsey Johnson and On Gossamer. 

“I’m one of those people who always say, I’m lucky,” DeMusis said. “From an early age I wanted a career in fashion, which is not an easy journey. But many, many years later, I am just as excited and thrilled to come to my job as I was all those years ago, when I started on the floor of B. Altman. 

“I’m so proud to be celebrating my years in intimate apparel,” she continued. “Which is truly the most difficult, meticulous category, where we get to help women overcome their issues and feel beautiful. I’m also blessed to have spent my most recent years in the swim industry, where every day is sunny. It’s been a wonderful ride. I cannot wait to see what’s next.”

Project HUG Gala

At the 2019 Project HUG Gala in New York, from left, Project HUG president Camille Block, medical director at Rusk Rehabilitation Dr. Steven Flanagan and Catherine Parkin of Rusk Rehabilitation.  Courtesy

Camille Block, president of Project HUG, called both DeMusis and Lau exceptional women. 

“They represent the best of the intimates and swimwear industries,” Block said. “They are true allies in our industry’s continuous work to make a difference in the lives of children.”

Raphael Camp, chief executive officer of Eurovet Americas, a trade show organizer for the intimates and swimwear industries, said the HUG Gala is one of the year’s biggest events in the industry, bringing people together. 

“The intimate apparel industry is so dynamically interconnected and mutually supportive,” Camp said. “But though we work together frequently, it’s very important to come together with our teams and celebrate our industry’s leaders and how our industry can make a difference.”

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